phil spector HBO Emmy Writer Director

Answer to script's riddle shocked even Its scribe

David Mamet, nominated for both writing and directing “Phil Spector” for HBO, initially resisted examining the wacky recording magnate to be played by Al Pacino.

“I went kicking and screaming, the guy’s a thug, he’s a lowlife, da da da.” His change of mind about the man’s fascination parallels that of consulting attorney Linda Kenney Baden (Helen Mirren), whose reflex certainty of her man’s guilt slowly gives way to passionate belief in his innocence.

Sophisticated themes of rooted-out prejudice and ideology raise the pic out of the realm of the courtroom procedural, though Mamet insists his topic was never the trial: “The movie is about what might have happened backstage.”

Mamet and Baden shared a commitment not to vilify victim Lana Clarkson, which in turn helped him unlock his story’s central riddle. “She clearly didn’t kill herself, and (Baden) can’t say he killed her because she’s his attorney. So what if it was an accident?” Fun was had with the lawyer’s real-life obstacle, a ravaging case of pneumonia. What do you do, the film asks, when everything’s on the line and you feel like hell?

Mamet professes enjoying it all, intimate two-handed confrontations and big crowd scenes. “You take the crock of shit the writer has handed you,” he notes wryly, “and try to make the best movie you can.”

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